Cloud Storage & DIY Data Recovery FTW

This is a tale of two disc deaths - and two happy endings.

Over the Christmas break, the 100GB hard drive on my work laptop (let's call it Dell #1) crashed. I couldn't boot, couldn't get through Vista's Startup Repair, couldn't rebuild Vista from the original discs - it was dead, dead, dead.

Then just last Saturday, Sausage accidentally knocked the home laptop (Dell #2 - 40GB) off the dining table, while it was running - effectively killing its hard drive too.


The good news with Dell #1, my work machine, is that there weren't any valuable client documents or other irreplaceable files on the C: drive. All that stuff was safely stored on the servers (having worked in the document management business for a big chunk of my career, I'm pretty careful about that stuff).

There were, however, a big mess of family photos, old documents, and personal files on the drive. Again, these were all files I had copies of elsewhere; the only problem being that the elsewhere, in this case, was our home laptop.

Double ouch.

My work laptop isn't all that old, so it was good to learn that the drive was still under warranty. Once The IT Department and I had done all we could to prove to ourselves that the drive was indeed utterly b0rked, we reported it to Dell who duly sent out a brand new 100GB drive the very next day. Outstanding. I was able to get the work laptop back up and running fairly quickly (although I'm still tweaking and tuning the setup to get it back to the way it was before the crash).

Meanwhile, I'm left with a big hole in my personal document files, and a dead laptop at home.

As a first step, I sent the drive from Dell #1 out to a data recovery lab for a quote. Meanwhile, I spent an unhappy and fruitless evening trying to rebuild Windows on the drive of Dell #2. Diagnosis: that drive was also utterly and completely b0rked.

The price estimate for the drive from Dell #1 came back from the recovery lab the next day. $1,800. Triple ouch. Really, I'm not too surprised - data recovery is difficult work and, as the lab guys will always tell you - you have to think of the value of the data they're restoring for you. If I'd made the mistake of keeping a lot of client work on the local drive, $1,800 to restore it would have been a snip. But for a bunch of personal files I might be able to recover by other means? Hmmm...

Instead, I asked the lab to send the drive back to me and moved on to a two-stage plan B. I hopped over to TigerDirect.ca to browse their cable selection, then paid a visit later that evening to our local cheapo computer shop (the excellent Beach Impressions on Queen Street East) and scored a replacement drive for Dell #2.

Installing and setting up the new drive in the home laptop has (so far) proven entirely painless - and I'm in the process of restoring everything that we lost, thanks to the wonders of Mozy Home backup. I can't recall who first turned me onto Mozy, but I can enthusiastically recommend it to anyone looking for a seamless backup solution.

This little beastie sits in the background, sending backup data up into the cloud whenever your machine is idle. It's just about foolproof. For a reasonable annual fee, you get unlimited online storage and a backup regime you don't even have to think about.

With Dell #1 back in one piece and happy again, and Dell #2 on the road to complete recovery, thanks to the wonders of Mozy's cloud storage, the only thing remaining was to see what I could do with that dead drive from Dell #1.

Again - I knew I'd have most of the family photos and stuff I needed up on Mozy's servers - but what if there was something missing? Something I'd only had on Dell #1 and had forgotten to synch?

Thanks to a tip from a friend, I knew TigerDirect would probably have what I needed. Sure enough, I was able to find a cable to connect the fancy SATA drive from Dell #1 to a USB port on Dell #2. I found this little marvel for a mere twenty bucks.

As I write this, the "dead" drive from Dell #1 is churning away on the table beside me, happily squirting data onto the new drive I installed in Dell #2. Hooking up the USB-to-SATA connection couldn't have been easier and, although a few files seem to be FUBAR, most of the photos and other stuff on the old drive appear to be intact.

So. The final reckoning:

Professional data recovery quote for one dead 100GB drive: $1,800
Estimated cost for professional recovery on 40GB drive: hard to say, but I doubt it would have been any less than $800
Estimated total: $2,600

One USB-to-SATA drive cable: $19.99 plus shipping & tax (about $30 all in)
One replacement 80GB hard drive for Dell #2: $55.57 including tax.

Total data loss: minimal
Net savings: about $2,500

That make me one happy (and smug) geek.